And … it’s over
So, the honeymoon period of being here is over. And I mean, over.
I’m learning a bit about culture shock on an academic as well as personal level right now. Although sources differ, it seems there are 4 stages to experiencing culture shock for someone living in a different culture, the first being the honeymoon phase. I had heard of the honeymoon phase and will admit that I was doubtful of such a phase for a family with small children. After all, it’s not like Shun-Luoi and I could rent a motorcycle, head out to a different restaurant every night, and go riding elephants whenever we wanted to, as some may be able to do when new to the culture (which I don’t begrudge them, by the way).
However, I am now convinced that there had been a honeymoon period for us after all … because it ended two weeks ago.
I remember feeling stressed more than usual for multiple days in a row and then one day it hit me, “We live here.” I realized that we were not just here for a long vacation, that we would not be heading back to America any day soon, and that the things that were difficult about life here were going to continue to be difficult for some time. And somehow, I didn’t feel as up to the various challenges of figuring out the answers to many of the questions I had about day-to-day living here. The things that had seemed somewhat difficult the week before now seemed much, much more difficult. Add to that the specific frustrations of the ongoing heat, not being able to drive yet, the lack of a strong support system, and a bit of fear brought on by the prediction of a record-breaking dengue fever season and well, it’s been an emotional roller coaster.
People tell me that what I’m experiencing is normal. It’s helpful to hear that, to know that maybe I’m not just a freak. That maybe I will be able to handle living in another culture. And yet, as my mind always asks in situations that include struggle; “How on earth do I do this?” On days when I sit in my kitchen, cry, and tell God, “I don’t want to be here right now,” how do I walk forward in faith? By the way, it’s not like I want to run back to America. It’s just that there are moments when I don’t want to be here. Did you get that? Me either, to be honest. But then I realize that what I really want is for things to feel easier. I don’t want to face the fact that this emotional roller coaster could last for months and that some of the current challenges will continue for the unforeseen future.
I can mentally assent to the truth that a life of ease is never anything I was promised as a follower of Jesus – I get that. But that doesn’t answer my question of what to do when the difficulties come. Or when the overwhelming feelings threaten to sweep me away. A wiser, older friend back in Colorado encouraged me (via Skype – how grateful I am for technology!) to think of it not simply in terms of difficulty or ease, but in terms of contentment. Can I, like Paul of the Bible, learn to be content in whatever circumstance I’m in, whether easy or difficult? Can I, as another friend encouraged me, not seek to rush through this stage of the current process I’m in? Will I really lean into it (still figuring out what that really means), experience all that God has for me right now, and allow Him to meet me in the midst of it?
By God’s grace and by faith, yes.
And much to the chagrin of this black-and-white thinker who wishes there was a nice and neat formula for everything, I have no idea how to be content in this stage of the game, to not try to rush through the discomfort, and to allow God to minister to me in the midst of it all. I know some practical things to put into practice and steps to take. But when it comes down to it, I have no clue how it all looks and will play out.
And so I’ll walk (or crawl) through this stage by faith. I’ll start each day with, “God, please give me what I need for today. Fill me with faith, help me to exercise the faith I already have, and help me to embrace this adventure you invited us into.” I’ll do the things I know to do. I’ll simply pray, “Help me to get through this,” when I have no clue which practical steps to take.
Oh, and I’ll probably be drinking a lot of iced lattes, taking many deep breaths, and shedding plenty of tears along the way. Ah, life when the honeymoon period ends. [insert deep breath]